On writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 85th birthday, December 11, his seventh in Russia memorial board has been put on the secondary school building in the village of Mezinovsky (Vladimir region) in memory of his teacher’s work here in 1956-1957.
In addition, today this school possesses a small museum devoted to his works and his life here.
Solzhenitsyn’s knowledge of interior Russia where he had wanted to get after his Ekibastuz exile has been realized several years later in his story Matrena’s House which became famous all over the world. This year is the 40th anniversary of this story. It turned out that this Solzhenitsyn’s work became a book rarity in the settlement of Mezinovsky. The Matrena’s house itself is lacking this book. Now Solzhenitsyn character’s niece Luba is leaving here. “I had some magazine pages with this story, but once my neighbors asked for them to study at school, but they didn’t give it back”, Luba complains. In these “historical” house she is raising her grandson with disability allowance. She inherited Matrena’s house from her mother, the youngest Matrena’s sister. The house was brought to Mezinovsky from the neighboring village of Miltsevo (in Solzhenitsyn’s story – Talnovo), where the future writer had lodged at Matrena Zakharova’s place (Matrena Grigorieva – in Solzhenitsyn’s story).
Before Solzhenitsyn’s visit in 1994 in the village of Miltsevo a new house was quickly built, similar to Matrena’s but of higher quality. Soon after Solzhenitsyn’s memorial visit Matrena’s fellow-villagers extirpated window-frames and floor planks from this unprotected building situated in the outskirts of the village.
The old school building in Mezinovskoe where Solzhenitsyn was a teacher was replaced with the new building in 1957. Solzhenitsyn worked at the school having about a thousand students, and currently the school in the village has only 240 students. For 50 years the local river became shallow, the peat reserves in the swamps were extracted and the neighboring villages population reduced greatly. Many local residents still resemble Solzhenitsyn’s character Faddei calling the state property “ours” and believing that losing it is “shameful and stupid”.
Officials from the local government departments of education and culture were honorable guests at the celebration of the 85th birth anniversary of the Nobel Prize laureate in the school in Mezinovskoe. Local governor and his deputies did not attend the celebration. Memorial board was attached high on the wall of the school building. The school museum of Solzhenitsyn has the floors covered with expensive linoleum which looks like the authorities caring of the memories of the writer and the sign of well-being on the background of the poverty of the old school building whose first floor even has no heating. There are unique exhibits in the museum such as Zorki camera which Solzhenitsyn used for taking pictures in Mezinovskoe. "We have big debt because of the museum, I wish we had a chance to pay the debt," the school principal said in an interview to Izvestia newspaper.
Solzhenitsyn used to walk to Mezinovskoe from Miltsevo every day. The guests had no chance to visit Miltsevo during the celebration because the villagers said the road is covered with thick layer of snow. The residents of Mezinovskoe from time to time stop trains at the railroad. Last winter it was so cold that the walls in the village houses which have no central heating were covered with ice. The villagers, including the students and teacher of the well-known Solzhenitsyn’s” school picketed the railroad to bring attention to their problems.
“Solzhenitsyn wrote the truth – everybody here stole peat when it was being stocked up by the state order. We used to have plenty of peat and used it instead of firewood,”- Matrena’s niece says. “Today we ran out of peat and use firewood. Luckily, Solzhenitsyn sends me 3three thousand roubles a year to buy firewood. Twice a year I go to the post office to receive this money, and the postmen tell me: “Have money from your dear father!” I have to confess, sometimes it is so hard to survive that I have to collect empty bottles to sell them and buy bread”.
Matrena’s house was put in the new place with no foundation. The cottage is gradually collapsing: its two rows of beams lowered below the ground, in the rain water penetrates inside the cottage through the holes in the roof. As during Matrena’s life, there are many cockroaches in the house, but no mice: there are four cats there, two of the cats came fromдоме четыре кошки, две свои и две прибившиеся. Lyuba used to work as a smelter at the local plant, and nowadays she goes from instance to instance to extend her disability allowance. Matrena also spent months visiting instances to start receiving pension allowance. "Only Solzhenitsyn helps me”, Lyuba says. “Only once a man came in a Japanese car, introduced himself as Alexei, had a quick tour around the house and gave me some money". Like Matrena did, Lyuba has a kitchen-garden behind her house and grows potatoes in it. Her main food is potatoes, mushrooms and cabbage, as it always used to be. Her household has only cats, there is no cattle, although even poor Matrena had a she-goat.
Many righteous people in Mezinovskoe live in this way. Students of local lore, history and economy write papers about the writer’s living in Mezinovskoe, local poets write poems about this and schoolchildren write compositions "Hard destiny of Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn", as previous generations of students wrote about the books by Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union. Some local residents have the idea to restore the Matrena’s house in the outskirts of deserted Miltsevo village as a museum. And old Matrena’s household lives in the same way it did 50 years ago.
Leonid Novikov, Vladimirskaya oblast
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